Tuesday 23 September 2008


I recently came across some examples of Murphy's Lesser Known Laws (featured below) and was prompted to wonder - not for the first time - who was this Murphy character who is responsible for all those infallible laws?

According to various internet sites, Murphy's history goes something like this...
The Law was originally discovered by a sergeant at Edward's Air Force Base, California. Rocket-sled experiments were done by the United States Air Force in 1949 to test human acceleration tolerances (USAF project MX981).

One experiment involved a set of 16 accelerometers mounted to different parts of the subject's body. There were two ways each sensor could be glued to its mount. Of course, somebody managed to install all 16 the wrong way around. It was then that Edward A Murphy, Jr made his epic pronouncement: "If anything can go wrong, it will."
However, others have thrown into question Murphy's claim to authorship and a detailed discussion on this arcane topic will be found on Wikipedia. But just remember: "If it is possible to miss an important meeting while reading this, you will!"

In any event, whether he was Sgt Murphy or someone else, he, she or they were only hijacking the much older rule known as Sod's Law ("If there's some poor sod who's going to get it in the neck, you will be that poor sod!") or, perhaps, a lesser know authority, Finagle's Law.

And even before Sod and/or Finagle, sages were putting forward similar immutable premises, among them.....

Alfred Holt, engineer:
It is found that anything that can go wrong at sea generally does go wrong sooner or later, so it is not to be wondered that owners prefer the safe to the scientific...

- Review of the Progress of Steam Shipping
during the last Quarter of a Century
Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers
Vol. LI, Session 1877-78

Nevil Maskelyne, magician and First President of The Magic Circle:
It is an experience common to all men to find that, on any special occasion, such as the production of a magical effect for the first time in public, everything that can go wrong will go wrong. Whether we must attribute this to the malignity of matter or to the total depravity of inanimate things, whether the exciting cause is hurry, worry, or what not, the fact remains.

- 'The Art in Magic', The Magic Circular, June 1908
And before both of them (and others) an anonymous writer in the Huron Reflector for November 23rd, 1841 edition observed:
I never had a slice of bread,
Particularly large and wide,
That did not fall upon the floor,
And always on the buttered side.
Anyway, to this latest cache of Murphyisms...
Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.

Change is inevitable, except from a vending machine.

Those who live by the sword get shot by those who don't.

Nothing is foolproof to a sufficiently talented fool.

The 50-50-90 rule: Anytime you have a 50-50 chance of getting something right, there's a 90% probability you'll get it wrong.

If you lined up all the cars in the world end to end, someone would be stupid enough to try to pass them, five or six at a time, on a hill, in the fog.

The things that come to those who wait will be the scraggly junk left by those who got there first.

The shinbone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room.

A fine is a tax for doing wrong. A tax is a fine for doing well.

When you go into court, you are putting yourself into the hands of twelve people who weren't smart enough to get out of jury duty.

You can find out more about Murphy and bone up on his laws at: Murphy's Laws Site and Muphy's Law: If It Can Go Wrong, It Will.


Anonymous said...

Oh how very helpful Brian! I'm already terrified of my first night on stage since school... now I'm going to be counting all the things that could go wrong... where are my pills?

Brian Sibley said...

Ooops, sorry, luvvie...


Er... that is... I mean... I'm sure you'll be WONDERFUL, darling!!

Arts and Crafts said...

Oh Brian, how could you... Suzanne, don't worry, everything will be splendid, I praise for you to the "Saints" of the british theater, Saint John, Saint Laurence, Saint Edith, Saint Alec, Saint Peggy, Saint Paul, and so, and so...;)

SharonM said...

Highly interesting stuff. I'm hoping that somewhere out there someone has produced counters to these Murphyisms.
Mind you in recent years, to anyone who has called me a pessimist, my response has always been, 'no, I'm a realist', so maybe there aren't any.

Brian Sibley said...

Well, done, EUDORA! And don't forget St Ralph who, it said (probably apocryphally), once walked to the front of the stage during a performance and asked: "Is there a doctor in the house?" and when a shout of "Yes!" came from the back of the stalls, said - with a shake of the head - "Oh, doctor, isn't this a terrible play?"

And, yes, I'm with LISAH; after all, if you always expect the worst, anything even marginally better is going to come as a pleasant surprise!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for all your encouragement folks! Shame none of you can be there - it's in French & in my little village in Belgium...

Boll Weavil said...

Whilst I welcome any excuse to go to Belgium, it wouldn't be the first play I'd not understood a word of...

Brian Sibley said...

I'm sure we'll all be with you, SUZANNE, in spirit at least! What is the play, by the way?

Anonymous said...

A comedy - I play the cheated on wife, hysterical, unreasonable, nosy... which will mean some REAL acting on my behalf - nothing like me at all! The title in French is a play on words about the Seven "deadly" Sins - "Les Sept Péchés Capiteux"